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Recent news reports prompt me to revisit some of the issues I’ve been raising in previous columns for The Flash.
A few weeks ago I wrote that supporters of gay marriage shouldn’t get too comfortable about the recent Supreme Court decision recognizing it as a constitutional right, since the public is frequently less accepting of decisions made by appointed officials than those made by elected officials, or the voters themselves. A recent poll conducted and published by the Associated Press may bear this warning out. The AP noted in its story that since April support for same sex marriage has fallen from 48% to 42%, while support for the rights of wedding-related businesses, on religious grounds, to refuse to provide services to same sex partners seeking to marry has increased from 52% to 59%. (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SAME_SEX_MARRIAGE_POLL?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-07-18-08-05-33 ). The Supreme Court decision will no more settle this matter and make it go away than its decisions on slavery, racial integration, affirmative action, diversity, or abortion succeeded in settling those issues.
Meanwhile, the war to eliminate symbols of the South not only continues, but escalates. The city council of Memphis, Tennessee, wants to remove both the bodies of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general and first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, and his wife, along with his statue, from a city park, while a similar effort to remove a statue in Nashville of General Forrest is also being made (see stories at http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/local-news/city-hall/calls-emails-tweets-arrive-at-memphis-city-hall-after-action-taken-on-nathan-bedford-forrest_60739032) and (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/25/is-this-the-weirdest-confederate-statue-in-dixie/) . It should be noted that General Forrest’s descendants apparently support the Memphis project, while the Nashville statue is a truly hideous and ugly characature. Removal of these monuments to storage or to more obscure locations is not necessarily bad, as long as doing so doesn’t destroy historical memory. To remember and confront the life and legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest are signs of a brave and healthy democratic society, but to erase him from our national memory altogether would be what to expect in the totalitarian societies of which George Orwell warned. (Fun fact: Forest Lane, off the North Loop, was once named Nathan Bedford Forrest Road; while still on the city council, I proposed that the section within Stephenville limits be renamed Martin Luther King Road. My idea, if implemented, would have created a uniquely named road, but my idea, being mine, went nowhere.)
Less acceptable is a proposal by the Atlanta, Georgia, chapter of the NAACP to sandblast the Stone Mountain images of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (see http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/15/atlanta-naacp-wants-confederate-leaders-sandblaste/). The NAACP has historically been a true force for freedom and racial equality; to confront and debate the meaning of Stone Mountain, rather than to erase its features, is the more courageous course of action, and therefore more worthy of the NAACP. Besides, sandblasting Stone Mountain because we don’t like who’s portrayed there could set a bad precendent. Consider who’s memorialized on Mount Rushmore: Two southern slave owners (Washington and Jefferson), a president who, at the beginning the Civil War, was willing to preserve slavery in the South to preserve the Union (Lincoln), and a president who summarily expelled, without due process, African American cavalry troops for disorderly conduct (Theodore Roosevelt). Dynamite, anyone? (More fun facts and a fun question: Jefferson was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, Washington was the president of the convention which wrote the United States Constitution, and at the time these documents were adopted every state but Massachusetts permitted slavery; so since these documents were developed by slave owners and adopted by representatives of slave states, what do we do with them—repeal them and start over?)
One other story deserves mention (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obama-offers-the-perfect-response-to-the-confederate-flag-wavers/2015/07/17/a909f1f6-2c7e-11e5-bd33-395c05608059_story.html). President Obama recently went to Oklahoma to visit a federal prison to promote criminal justice reform. He was met by demonstrators waving—you guessed it—the Confederate Battle Flag, but who otherwise presented no interference. A columnist criticized the protestors for their choice of symbols with which to greet America’s first African-American president. So—Obama still got to exercise his free speech rights, while the protestors exercised theirs and the columnist exercised his. So as far as this story is concerned, at least, the score was: Freedom—3; suppression-0.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.